Rosemary for Remembrance, Charcoal for Bee Sting: Herbs and Herbalism at the Center of the Universe

Herbs herbs herbs! At the the Wildwood Herb Shop, they're available whole,

powdered, pure or in combinations, and in tablets, tinctures, salves, extracts and teas.

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember; and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts... There’s fennel for you, and columbines... Oh! And here's linden flower, that's for insomnia, and camomile for relaxation, while corn silk breaks up kidney stones and celery seed makes an excellent diuretic …

Sorry, Reader, I couldn’t resist! Spend the first part of your life studying English, it's hard not to channel Ophelia for the rest of it every time you open your spice cabinet, much less stroll through an herb store reading labels.

And that, Dear Reader, is where our story starts, in the Wildwood Herb Shop on the Seventh-day Adventist campus off I-59 at Highway 299. Like many Dade denizens, I had used the natural-foods grocery store at Wildwood for years but had seldom had occasion to darken the doors of the little herb store that sits just beyond it. To explain why I was doing so today, we must back up a few weeks further.

I have no memory of injuring my leg, but at some point this summer the area behind my right knee began hurting. I ignored the problem for several weeks and instead of going away it got worse. Then, one Wednesday, walking the dogs, I reached over to pick a blackberry, stepped wrong and shrieked in sudden, debilitating pain. I was crippled!

My husband fetched me home in the car, and for the rest of that week I wasn't up to much but sitting on the porch, icing the back of my knee and eating naproxen, humping back and forth from the house like Quasimodo with the help of a walker one of the neighbors leant me.

On Friday, another neighbor popped by. I had gotten up to greet him and kept shouting cuss words when I forgot and put weight on the right leg.

My neighbor went home and got me a Mason jar of ointment he and his wife make with comfrey, a healing herb they buy at the Wildwood Herb Shop. I rubbed it behind my knee and – drumroll, please – was walking again by the very next morning.

You could say it was the ice, the naproxen or the simple passage of time; and it's true I wasn't back in hiking form for another few days. But it was close enough to a miracle cure for the likes of me and, smelling a feature, I popped forthwith by the Wildwood Herb Shop to request an interview with the manager there, Osiris Hernandez.

Osiris shows off some of the herbal tinctures she makes at the store.

"Comfrey is a very powerful herb," agreed Osiris when we met. She showed me a preparation called "Healing Antiseptic Salve" that she sells at the shop for $14.50. It contains comfrey.

Comfrey and other herbs—lots and lots of other herbs—are available at the Wildwood Herb Shop not just in salves and tinctures but whole—dried leaves, roots, berries or flowers—or in powdered form.

Comfrey, explains Osiris, is good for bones, as in fractures or osteoporosis. It can also be taken internally in a tea for respiratory ailments, but be careful: It's easy to take too much, she warned, so perhaps it's safer for internal use to buy a commercial preparation. She sells a comfrey-mullein-garlic syrup she says is a delicious way to treat colds and flus.

Osiris makes certain tinctures and extracts at the shop herself, slow-cooking herbs with glycerine and water for several days, and she puts together combinations of herbs to make healing teas.

But besides making up the preparations, Osiris is also in charge of educating customers about herbs—that's what she was doing while I read labels and babbled Shakespeare—which is why I had the nerve to ask her to tell me everything she knew about herbal healing in 30 minutes.

She did her best, but was careful to first put things in context, and so should we:

The Wildwood Herb Shop, like the natural foods grocery, operates as an independent business but is deeply associated with the larger Seventh-day Adventist establishment at Wildwood, including its medical missionary training program and lifestyle treatment center.

Seventh-day Adventism is more concerned with health than many other Christian denominations, said Osiris, which is why so many Adventists are vegetarians or vegans. “Food and medicine, they’re the same thing,” she said.

Besides good nutrition, the Wildwood health approach stresses exercise, sunshine and fresh air. “When you walk under the sunshine, so many things normalize, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar,” said Osiris. Besides that, the Adventists stress plenty of fresh water and trust in God.

All that said, Osiris's particular specialty is herbs, in which she first became interested as a teacher in her native Panama, when she met a man who had left the priesthood to become a healer. Diagnosed with cancer, he had studied herbalism in Chile, cured himself, and returned to treat others. "He was a 78-year-old man," she said. "He looked like 59."

Osiris learned from the priest, then worked with a natural doctor for a year and in the big ABC herb stores in Florida for 13, and she also took the medical missionary natural healing course at Wildwood. But she's always still reading and learning more, she said. Her store carries an extensive array of books on herbs and healing, including one just on charcoal, one of the natural cures Osiris swears by.

By "charcoal" I don't mean the briquets you put in the grill, but it's more or less the same substance, burnt hardwood available in bulk at Wildwood and other herb stores. "Many people save their lives by taking charcoal," said Osiris.

How? Charcoal is applied externally for treating allergic reactions, including potentially fatal allergies to bee sting. Osiris has used it in a poultice to reduce pain and swelling in a wounded foot and says it's also good for fractures, inflammation and tumors. Internally it is used to treat poisoning, reduce gas and lower cholesterol. "We have it in tablets and capsules—it doesn’t taste bad but it’s messy,” she said. "If you have gum problems, it helps orally."

Gum disease is another condition herbs can help with. Osiris once saw a woman have all her teeth pulled whom she felt she could have treated successfully with willow, white oak and sage. "I have a little bottle of powder that I put together especially for gum disease," she said.

She has other combinations for high blood pressure—cornsilk, celery seed, motherwort, parsley, dandelion—for arthritis, female complaints, depression and insomnia. “In the lifestyle center, we have a combination of herbs especially for cancer,” she said.

Yes, even cancer. Osiris has two regular customers who in fact survived pancreatic cancer, a particularly vicious type. One, a woman, was diagnosed 20 years ago and has lived so far to nearly 80, said Osiris. The other, a Korean man, was treated at the Wildwood Lifestyle Center two years ago in the early stages, after which he began buying herbs and "attacked that cancer with all his strength," said Osiris. Now, she said, "He’s happy, he’s alive and he has no cancer. He went to the doctor and the doctor can’t find any cancer."

Osiris says herbs are just one part of treatment. She also stresses diet, prayer and "abstinence from anything that harms you." This includes tobacco, sweets and alcohol, even the topical kind my neighbors mix with comfrey to make their extract—it's absorbed through the skin, says Osiris.

I don't know about that, and I don't know that herbs can cure every disease, but I can certainly attest to the wonders that comfrey did for my leg. Now, you gotta wonder, is there an herb that can cure a person of an obnoxious habit of quoting Shakespeare?

Interested in knowing more about herbs? You can call the Wildwood Herb Shop at (706) 820-0915, go online to, or visit in person at 293 Lifestyle Lane, on the east side of the Wildwood exit of I-59. The store is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, and 3-6 p.m. Sunday.

#RobinFordWallace #DadeCountynewspaper

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